Antifreeze activity increases in winter rye (Secale cereale L.) during cold acclimation as the plants accumulate antifreeze proteins (AFPs) that are similar to glucanases, chitinases and thaumatin-like proteins (TLPs) in the leaf apoplast. In the present work, experiments were conducted to assess the role of drought and abscisic acid (ABA) in the regulation of antifreeze activity and accumulation of AFPs. Antifreeze activity was detected as early as 24 h of drought treatment at 20 degrees C and increased as the level of apoplastic proteins increased. Apoplastic proteins accumulated rapidly under water stress and reached a level within 8 days that was equivalent to the level of apoplastic proteins accumulated when plants were acclimated to cold temperature for 7 weeks. These drought-induced apoplastic proteins had molecular masses ranging from 11 to 35 kDa and were identified as two glucanases, two chitinases, and two TLPs, by using antisera raised against cold-induced rye glucanase, chitinase, and TLP, respectively. Apoplastic extracts obtained from plants treated with ABA lacked the ability to modify the growth of ice crystals, even though ABA induced the accumulation of apoplastic proteins within 4 days to a level similar to that obtained when plants were either drought-stressed for 8 days or cold-acclimated for 7 weeks. These ABA-induced apoplastic proteins were identified immunologically as two glucanases and two TLPs. Moreover, the ABA biosynthesis inhibitor fluridone did not prevent the accumulation of AFPs in the leaves of cold-acclimated rye plants. Our results show that cold acclimation and drought both induce antifreeze activity in winter rye plants and that the pathway regulating AFP production is independent of ABA.